Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 7-10-22 Sermon – “Who Is My Neighbor?”

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Luke 10:25-37 “The Good Samaritan.”

Many people think –and I used to be one of them- that Judaism is a religion of cold and harsh laws, and Christianity is the religion of love and brotherhood. I have concluded that this is an unfair characterization of Judaism. Love and kindness have been an important part of Judaism from the very beginning. The God of love, we see in Jesus is the same God of love we find in the Old Testament. Today’s scripture is an example of this. When the expert of the law said, “love your neighbor as yourself,” he was not saying something new; he was not saying something of his own. He was merely quoting the Torah. He was quoting Leviticus 19:18 and Leviticus 19:34: love your neighbor and love the alien or stranger as yourself.

Today’s gospel is the story, or the parable known as the Good Samaritan. The concept of the “Good Samaritan” is familiar enough to everyone. We name hospitals, churches, and institutions in his honor. Most people know a “Good Samaritan.” We know who a “Good Samaritan” is, when we see one. A Good Samaritan does good deeds. There is no doubt in my mind that we all have met a “Good Samaritan” or at least have heard of one.

That familiarity with this concept makes the preaching of this scripture kind of hard. As soon as we heard the gospel, we knew what this parable or story is about. It’s about good people doing good deeds; it’s about people helping people; it’s about Jesus criticizing the priest and Levite for being so cold; for doing nothing. I would like to think that this interpretation is true, but there is something else. I would like to believe that this story is also about Jesus asking the lawyer and us to stop asking rhetorical questions of which we already know the answers and start practicing what we know.

To explain what I mean let me start with the lawyer, with the expert of the law. Luke says that he stood up to test Jesus with one question; the question was: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a fair question, however in this case is a rhetorical question. Jesus’ answer was another question: what is written in the law? How do you read it? The expert of the law’s answer was, “love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Can you see it? He already knew the answer to his question. Then Jesus told him: “do this and you will live.” In other words, stop asking rhetorical question; stop asking questions of which you already know the answers and start practicing what you know. Go, and love your God and love your neighbor.

The dialogue continued; the testing continued, and the expert of the law wanted to justify himself, and asked another question, “And who is my neighbor?” Once again Jesus did not give him an answer, instead, Jesus told him a story, and we know the story: a man came from Jerusalem to Jericho; he was robbed and left naked and half dead. A priest happens to be going down the same road, he saw him, but he did not stop. Then a Levite also passed; he came down the same road. He came, saw the man, and left. They both were religious leaders; they both knew the scripture of love and compassion for our neighbors, but even when they knew it, they did not practice it. I have heard that they had the excuse of not touching the man because if he was dead, they were going to be “impure” and could not participate in any activity in the temple. That is true, however, Jesus said that they were going down the road. Meaning they were leaving Jerusalem; they were going back home; they had already finished their duties in the temple. So, that was not an excuse.              

The priest and the Levite knew what they had to do; they knew Leviticus 19:18 and 34 and they just passed by. In other words, they did not practice what they knew.

Now, the “Good Samaritan” comes into scene, and he is the one who makes the difference in the story. According to Jesus he took pity on the man in need. Now, did he know Leviticus 19:18 and 34? I would say yes, why? Because 1) Samaritans were descendants of Abraham, they were Jacob’s children, they knew the scripture. Remember what the Samaritan woman said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 2) They were part of the kingship of David and Salomon when the kingdom was one. They worshiped God in Jerusalem. So, they had a common faith with Judah. The Samaritan of the parable knew what the Torah asks us to do, and he practiced what he knew.

    After Jesus finished His story, He asked the lawyer: which of these three do you think is the neighbor of the man who fell into the hands of robbers? “The one who had mercy on him” was the answer. Can you see? once again he knew the answer to his question or at least he already had a good idea; and once again Jesus told him “Go and do likewise.” In other words, practice what you know; go and act justly; go and have mercy, go, and love the way the Samaritan did.

With the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus shatters the inclusive love practice by many in our society. He did it by telling how the good Samaritan exhibited inclusive compassion. The Samaritan did not know the victim. He did not know his nationality, his occupation, his income, his religion, his education, his legal status, or his diseases. He just saw another human being in need; he took pity on him and provided for his restoration. Therefore, this parable is also a call to broad our circle of concern and see people with the eyes of Christ; to see them as human beings in need; not only when someone is brutally victimized, as this case, but also when they are lonely, alienated, or hurting on the inside.

Jesus told the expert of the law, go and do likewise. In order to do what the Samaritan did we have to pay attention to the final question Jesus did. Remember the expert of the law asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” He was the center of the question. At the conclusion of the story, Jesus asked the legal expert, “which man acted like a neighbor to the victim.” The victim is the center, the one in need is the center. Jesus was trying to show the expert of the law that his focus should not be on who qualifies for his love, or who qualifies to be his neighbor. Instead, we Christians must analyze our own lives to see how we measure up to the example of Christ and be ready to be the neighbor of those who are in need.

In the midst of our society’s oppression and despair, we, the followers of Christ must stop rationalizing and justifying our inactivity and start applying the mercy of God. God, -remember- who loved the world in such a way, that he did something to save it; he gave his one and only Son for the sins of humanity. Unfortunately for the church, too many disciples are still stuck in the same legalism of the priest and the Levite, trying to determine who is our neighbor first in order to help. However, in Jesus’ story the one who made the difference is the one who helped, the one who got involved without asking any questions, and by doing so, he did God’s will, he acted as Jesus.

Today’s message from the gospel is: if you know about a situation in your life, in your family, in your church, in your community that requires attention, do something; do what the word of God ask you to do, get involve. Because knowledge without practice; knowledge without acting is like faith without action, is dead. Let’s stop asking rhetorical questions and let’s act.  

   Listen to these scriptures from the New Testament, Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. And in verse 24 says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

And finally, James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Let me finish with a quote from a movie: In the movie Titanic there is a part where I believe is reflected the message of “The Good Samaritan” of getting involve; the message of stop asking questions and act: Ross, the young lady from the movie was ready to jump from the ship because she did not want to marry Caledon Hockley. Jack saw her and told her “If you jump, I will jump.” She looks at him and told him “You do not even know me, why will you jump?” He replies, I do not know you, but I know you want to jump. Now that I know it, I have to do something.”

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